Critical Race Theory in Civil and Political Leadership Education

Race still lingers as a major issue in American politics in ways that seem hard to understand. We are constantly being referred to as a nation founded on white supremacy. Terms like white privilege and whiteness are still gaining traction, as the belief that being white alone is enough to make you racist continues to spread. Racism has become an inescapable concept because the progress made decades ago is being rejected under what is now known as Critical Race Theory. Still largely misunderstood for what it is, Critical Race Theory is a tool being used to frame social research from the perspective that the civil rights movement has failed to undo America’s racist, white supremacist past and that racism itself is not an individual problem, but a systemic one. Escaping accusations of racism is impossible because the tenets of Critical Race Theory say that race is a socially constructed concept. Critical race scholars claim that Americans fail to see people of different colors on an individual level, and only through the perceptions of our preconceived biases. These same scholars also adhere to another tenet of CRT called colorblindness. This is a flat-out rejection of any progress made during the civil rights movement where CRT scholars argue that taking a colorblind approach to racial problems, whether on the individual or systemic level, prevents lawmakers and social reformers from taking racial differences into account. Is race a socially constructed concept, or something we must pay attention to? Do CRT scholars want equal, or special treatment for minorities? Other tenets of CRT that will be relevant throughout this text are interest convergence, critique of liberalism, and intersectionality. Interest convergence is when advancements in racial issues are only made if they benefit white society first. Critique of liberalism is a complete repudiation of Western civilization and any concepts of freedom, individuality, and personal responsibility. Finally, intersectionality is the idea that people can suffer oppression from different sources. Think of a minority who may also be homosexual.

How is CRT being used as a tool of social research? This is where CRT becomes more difficult to understand. Most people believe CRT is just something being taught in elementary school to raise racial awareness and induce feelings of white guilt. While that is happening, that isn’t Critical Race Theory. Framing social research from a CRT perspective means starting from the preconceived notion that racism will be the conclusion. Whether the focus is on education, health, law, or social policy, CRT scholars always start their research with a biased commitment to social justice and eliminating racism. They are not starting their research from a neutral position, attempting to go where the data takes them, but as active participants in the perceived struggle against racism and white supremacy. A good example of this approach is William Tate’s seminal piece entitled Toward a Critical Race Theory of Education. His central argument is that race remains undertheorized in educational research and to solve inequality in American schooling, race, as an issue, should be considered first and foremost. This goes way beyond using CRT in elementary school to raise racial awareness in young children. It is the examination of education policy through the tenets of CRT as a tool of social research, starting from the preconceived notion that racism is already the known problem driving inequality in student achievement. William Tate is a key figure in the CRT movement. Not only did he write this piece on bringing CRT research to education, but he is also known for saying that “CRT is not for the undergraduate student, it is a framework used in law school and PhD’s education to better understand how laws are formulated and the influence of law on everyday life.” This is very important to understand because focusing on elementary school will only go so far when there is a major effort in the halls of higher academia to bring CRT into every field of scientific and social research. For instance, an article entitled Critical Race Theory and Empirical Sociology, published in the journal, American Behavioral Scientist, suggests that CRT is a much better model for empirical research than others because the other paradigms tend to show racism is decreasing. Using the tenets of CRT, and starting from a biased – racism is the problem perspective – empirical research will now show that racism is indeed the problem. Why? Because the research is starting from that position, and the work is being done from the perspective of being active participants in the fight against white supremacy.

In my article, CRT or Critical Theories on Race: Understanding the Difference, I cited the work of Tommy Curry. His article, Will the Real CRT Please Stand Up? The Danger of Philosophical Contributions to CRT was a dismissal of the idea that CRT was being used in elementary education at all. He argued that what was being taught was critical theories on race. This is bringing social consciousness to race issues in a way that seeks to eliminate racist attitudes. He says that white liberals who are attaching the label of CRT to their work are contributing to the problem by defining the terms in which race and racism are understood within the confines of white supremacy. This means what people believe to be CRT in elementary school isn’t, because critical race scholars are not interested in the resocialization of white people and removing racist attitudes, but the deconstruction of whiteness itself, and the tenets that make up Western civilization. Curry, like other CRT scholars, believes that focusing on racial ignorance will not solve racism, and all scholarship should focus on the idea that white people are only interested in working to maintain their racial superiority. Why does this matter? Who is Tommy Curry? He is a philosophy professor at the University of Edinburgh, in Scottland. He is also a contributing author to a book entitled Political and Civil Leadership: A Reference Handbook, which is a Sage publication. His contribution in Chapter 64, simply entitled Race, brings many of the ideas and beliefs of CRT scholars to the forefront of civil and legal scholarship and policy making.

He primarily speaks to what CRT scholars see as the failure of the civil rights movement to do little more than make Americans comfortable hiding behind what some critical scholars refer to as racial eliminativism. This goes along with the idea that racial problems can be eliminated in society by conditioning ideas of white supremacy out of people. The argument he makes is that Americans became comfortable hiding behind their racism when terms like colorblindness became popularized after the civil rights movement. He writes that the belief that black people are now integrated into society, and given access to our so-called systems of freedom, and individual responsibility, and because they are free from the real chains of segregation and discrimination as a matter of law, whatever problems they are left with are not the result of racism, but of their own doing. He states that taking this approach, which, according to him, places the burden of transformation on the oppressed as opposed to where it belongs, with the oppressor, leaves the systems of oppression driven by whiteness unexamined and fully intact, and because of this, solutions to the problem still revolve around white supremacist ideas like freedom, and individual choice. In other words, he is making the same argument he made in Will the Real CRT Please Stand Up? Solutions offered by white people, that entail the principles of classical liberalism, will not bring true equality because those solutions are being defined within the confines of the white supremacist system in which we live. This is what the tenet – critique of liberalism, means. The very foundation of the society in which we live, work, raise our families, and chase our dreams is being referred to as a social construct that benefits white people only. Curry argues that racism creates a real barrier to the full achievement of these ideals. As if black people are not capable of living in such a state. To solve racism, oppressed people must be looked at, and treated as such, starting any reformations from the positions that they have been the subjects of racial suppression, and not freed as a matter of jurisprudence.

Curry argues that solving racism means standing guard against the temptation to fall for the lies of liberalism’s triumph. White supremacy is the very foundation for racism in America because it rests on the notion that everything great in the world, everything worth learning, and everything great ever accomplished, has all been done through the lens of white normality. He concludes the paper by asking in what ways black people are comparing freedom and slavery, for example. Just because slavery was the root, being freed within the confines of whiteness doesn’t necessarily equate to true freedom.

“What I am suggesting is that the very ideas that we believe are applicable to the problem of racism are only applicable because they have been married to the conditions of oppression that allow them to be recognized as a possible solution. We claim to value “equality,” but what is it we are aiming to make the oppressed more equal to? We claim to value “freedom,” but what are we free from? Are we unburdened by the idea of race but segregated by its economic reality?” (Curry, 2010) 

Curry concludes his paper by arguing that nothing short of attacking the imaginary ideals of freedom, justice, and equality in Western society will solve racism at its root. By thinking in normal, comparative terminology, comparing freedom to slavery, impoverishment to opportunity, and equality to inequality, black people trap themselves in the confines of white supremacist thinking. They are unable to break away from the constructs that have been used under nice sounding terms like colorblindness, or racial eliminativism, to keep them in an underprivileged system striving to rise to the levels white society will allow them to rise to. This is the real CRT. The rejection that any racial progress has been made at all, and simply believing that white people can be socialized to realize their societal privileges will work to eliminate racist attitudes. Critical Race Theory is aimed directly at the heart of American freedom and the ideals which many of us believe in to this day. Personal responsibility and choice are not social constructs that only exist within the realms of white thinking. All people are individuals and CRT is doing more to harm black people than anything by making them believe they must view themselves as victims of oppression instead of going out and achieving whatever they are capable of. School systems across the country are dropping their standards under the misguided notion that it will improve inclusivity among minorities. Years after integrating CRT research into an educational paradigm, this is the best they can up with? We will make things more equal by dropping the standards? How is this not considered racist? Because according to them, education is a white, social construct too.

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